Here we are at the end of the year 2019. Out of all the years in recent memory, this is the one that flew by the quickest for me. Last year moved by pretty decently as well, but it genuinely seemed like a few months ago it was maybe April or May, but here we are entering not only a whole new year, but a whole new decade.
The 2010s were an absolutely phenomenal decade for film. If I were to sit here and list off every great movie that was released between 2010-2019, I would be sitting here for literally hours. That’s not to say that there have not been weak films this decade, because there have been, but that is not what we are going to be discussing today. Rather, today, we take a look back at the best that 2019 had to offer in cinema.
This was one of the greatest years for film in an extremely long time. Last year was good, but there were tons of both underwhelming and disappointing films making it simply an okay year. But not this year. This year had so many great films, that it was genuinely difficult to come together with this year’s list. I struggled so much deciding what films should be put on this list and which ones, unfortunately, had to be left out.
Before we get going with the list, I want to get my friendly reminders out of the way. Firstly, these are all my opinions. If you disagree with anything on this list, then that is one hundred percent okay. In fact, I don’t expect people to have similar lists to mine, and you are entitled to like whatever movies you like. I encourage you to send me your best of the year lists to read, even. Secondly, I have not seen every major release this year unfortunately. Some of the big ones that I could not see in time are 1917, Bombshell, and Uncut Gems. Finally, grades that I gave certain films do not necessarily matter here. What I mean by that is maybe you’ll see a film that I gave a B+ to, higher up on the list than a film that I gave an A+ to. This is because this is a list of my personal favorite movies of the year, and maybe I enjoyed certain films more even though other films are more well made.
Without further ado, let’s get going with my personal fifteen favorite films of 2019. But let’s get some honorable mentions out of the way.
- Ad Astra
- Knives Out
- The Irishman
- It Chapter Two
- Toy Story 4
- Spider-Man: Far From Home
M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass is the explosive and polarizing conclusion to his Eastrail 177 film trilogy that he brilliant set up ever since the release of 2000’s Unbreakable. That film is widely considered to be one of the most, if not the most, grounded superhero movie ever made. Years after the release, beloved fans of the film clambered for a follow-up film in some way, but it did not seem like we would be getting one, as Shyamalan put out other pictures that had no relation to Unbreakable. Films such as The Last Airbender, Lady in the Water, and The Visit were released by Shyamalan, but still no sequel to the genius world that Bruce Willis’ David Dunn lived in.
Then, in 2015, promotional campaigns began for a new thriller titled Split; which followed James McAvoy as Kevin Wendell Crumb, a man with dissociative identity disorder, who has twenty three distinct personalities, and the film depicts the story of the man as one of his personalities kidnaps three teenage girls. At the end of the film, it is revealed during the final scene, that it is indeed a sequel to Unbreakble, with Willis’ David Dunn appearing at a diner, discussing the elusive Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson).
I remember clearly when I saw the ending of Split for the first time, I was freaking out because we finally had a true sequel to Unbreakable, and it seemed that Shyamalan was setting up for a third film that would include all three major characters in the series. Fast forward to 2019 and we get Glass; an intense, deeply psychological look at superheroes in a way that has never been seen before. This is not a typical superhero film in the sense of heroes with capes flying around and stuff like that. But rather, it is incredibly grounded in reality and it is a slow-burning character study, and boy was it a good one.
Many fans of the previous two entries were not too pleased with Glass and viewed it as a disappointing and dull conclusion to the series, but I can’t disagree more. As a major fan of both Unbreakable and Split, Glass gave me everything I wanted out of it and so much more. The performances here are off the charts, too. McAvoy delivers a performance that I wish would be getting awards recognition right now, but it isn’t. As a story, it delivers on every element and it further develops the characters in ways that I would have never expected. All in all, Glass thrilled me, and it is certainly one of the most unique films of the year.
14. Happy Death Day 2U
Christopher Landon’s Happy Death Day 2U is a film that I was truthfully deeply excited for. When the predecessor was released two years ago, I saw it and did not like it too much. Its quirky style and sense of humor did not hit the right note with me upon initial viewing, but for some reason, I was compelled to watch it again when it was released on Blu-ray.
So I went ahead and rewatched it, and I found myself genuinely loving it the second time around. I understood what the film was going for and I noticed that Landon was incredibly self-aware with many of the elements. When I heard that a sequel was coming soon, I was looking forward to seeing what else Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) and the gang would have to endure, and I was curious to see where this time-bending story would go.
Happy Death Day 2U is not only a colossal improvement on the already great original, but a surprisingly heartfelt movie with a gigantic heart and tons of thrills and hilarious humor throughout. Jessica Rothe delivers one of the greatest performances of the year, and one that, like McAvoy in the aforementioned Glass, will go unrecognized this awards season.
If you are looking for a seriously funny and emotional film that has sprinkles of horror throughout, this is the film for you. Also, it contains the best usage of Paramore’s “Hard Times” that I have ever seen.
Booksmart is the closest thing we will ever get to a modern day John Hughes movie, and it is seriously terrific. Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut is a touching, ridiculously charming, and emotional thrill-ride that I will never forget going on for the first time.
Out of all of the pictures I have seen this year, Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein have the best chemistry of any actors in a film this year. In the movie, they portray two best friends who are over-achievers and make it a mission to go to a party right before their high school graduation. It genuinely feels as if these two are actually best friends in real life and have known each other for years. They work so well off one another and it never feels like they are acting.
It is additionally my favorite coming-of-age movie since Kelly Fremon Craig’s brilliant The Edge of Seventeen. If Olivia Wilde continues to make more films down the road, which I hope she does, then she has an incredibly bright and promising career in front of her.
12. Alita: Battle Angel
If you were to tell me back in 2018 that Robert Rodriguez’ Alita: Battle Angel would actually release, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. The film had been delayed countless times and it seemed for a long while, that we might have never gotten the opportunity to see the beloved manga adapted to the big screen.
But, thankfully, Alita was released in February of this year and it genuinely wowed me. For me, this is absolutely one of the greatest action movies of the year and it is one that has awe-inspiring visuals. A lot of people were understandably worried about how Rosa Salazar would look as the titular character, as it was reported that there would be computer-generated imagery added to her face. But, when the film was released, it proved the skeptics wrong with its state of the art CGI and it was such a treat to watch in IMAX 3D.
It is just a shame that not a whole lot of people went to see it. Don’t get me wrong, $409 million is nothing short of impressive, but if fans want to see a sequel like I do, then we have to hope that the home media profits are enough, because I would personally love to go on more adventures with the battle angel.
11. The Lighthouse
When Robert Eggers released The Witch back in 2015, it floored genre lovers with its unique style and horrifically grounded story of a New England family that gets caught in the center of an incredibly frightening situation. It was his directorial debut which made it all the more impressive, and many people, including myself, were eager to see what the up-and-coming filmmaker would cook up next.
With The Lighthouse, Eggers continues to impressive and show how talented he is at crafting a great film. It has a haunting sense of dread looming throughout the entire running time and it feels like something drastic could happen at any minute. A large portion of it is due to the show-stopping performances of both Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson.
They sell every scene they are in and deliver some of the best performances of the whole year. It also has a unique feel as it is done entirely in black and white and in that way, feels like a throwback to old, classic horror movies. The Lighthouse is an utter delight in every way.
Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, while not my personal favorite film of the year, is more than likely the most well crafted film of the year. It contains some of the strongest writing and directing of this year in cinema easily.
This is a movie that, from the very beginning, hooks you with its characters and its fascinating story. The characters here are some of the most well fleshed out characters of the whole year, and you can really get behind everybody and understand everybody’s motivations, which is something that is sadly lacking in a lot of films these days.
When this film ended, I felt like I had been hit with a wave of sadness, but I mean that in a good way. It is because the story and the movie as a whole was so powerful that I felt like I had seen something that I will never forget, and I truly won’t, because Parasite is one of the most enthralling cinematic experiences of the decade.
9. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
With Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino proves that he has still got it. This is his ninth film and yet he still manages to tell unique stories, and they are some of the most original stories you will be able to find.
Tarantino is a filmmaker that always crafts his films with such skill and approaches storytelling in a way that nobody else does. This is not an over the top action movie which I know some people thought it would be. It’s not a bloodbath like Django Unchained, but rather, it’s a great comedy that has bits of drama scattered throughout.
Even though I was not alive in the 1960s, this movie really felt like it was filmed in the 60s but you know that it wasn’t. Everything about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood feels like such a throwback to old school filmmaking and I cannot wait to see what Tarantino creates for his tenth (and potentially final) film.
8. Blinded by the Light
This year contained a plethora of music related movies, such as Dexter Fletcher’s Rocketman, Rupert Goold’s Judy, and Danny Boyle’s Yesterday, but my favorite of the music themed movies this year was without a doubt Gurinder Chadha’s Blinded by the Light.
Before I saw the film, I had heard from many fellow critics that it was an absolute blast, so I expected to enjoy it, but I truly did not expect to leave the theater feeling so happy and uplifted.
Chadha takes you on an emotional journey with these characters and by the time the third act comes around, you just want to jump for joy and it is one of the most feel-good films I have seen in years.
7. Marriage Story
Speaking of emotional journeys, Noah Baumbach’s latest feature Marriage Story is not only his best effort to date, but one of the best pictures of the year. This movie, from the beginning all the way to the end, hooks you with its story and it makes you genuinely care for these characters.
Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are two actors that I have been familiar with for years, yet when I watched Marriage Story, I never once saw them. I saw their characters Charlie and Nicole Barber. They absolutely deserve Oscar nominations for their emotionally draining performances here.
It also has a beautiful score from Randy Newman, who you probably know best as the composer for the classic animated film Toy Story. Additionally, it has some of the most gorgeous cinematography this year had to offer.
Although Todd Phillips’ Joker is not a horror film, it is one of the most terrifying pieces of cinema that my eyes have gazed upon in years. It also made me question “How was this directed and co-written by the same guy behind The Hangover?”
Joaquin Phoenix delivers perhaps my favorite male performance of the year as the tortured and complex Arthur Fleck, a failed comedian who turns to a life of crime, making for one of the best character studies this year.
By the time the final act comes around, you feel so disturbed because of the arc that Fleck’s character has, and it is made all the more disturbing because of Hildur Guðnadóttir chilling score and Lawrence Sher’s terrific cinematography.
5. Little Women
Greta Gerwig’s second film as a filmmaker, Little Women, is the most recent film I have seen as of writing this article. I saw it opening weekend and even though sometimes it can be hard to tell how much you like a movie after seeing it relatively recently, I am confident in saying that this is nothing short of a masterpiece.
Out of any movie on this list, this is perhaps the most wholesome of the bunch. It is honestly so hard to watch this delightful tale and not crack at least a few smiles. It is heartwarming, heartbreaking, hilarious and so much more.
Saoirse Ronan is a marvel here and delivers the best performance of her career, too. In addition to her, the up-and-coming talent that is Florence Pugh continues to astonish with everything she does. Little Women truly is the gift that I think will keep on giving for many years to come.
4. Doctor Sleep
To say that I was excited for Doctor Sleep would be a colossal understatement to say the least. It is a sequel to my second favorite film of all time, that being Stanley Kubrick’s masterful The Shining, plus, this follow-up was written and directed by Mike Flanagan, who has more than proven himself to be an immensely fresh and exciting horror director in recent years with successes such as Hush, Oculus, and the Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House under his belt.
As a sequel to the aforementioned Shining, this is about as great as you can get. Virtually every element to this horror epic is remarkable. I have seen the movie several times now, yet I still feel the urge to watch it several more times. It respects both Kubrick’s film while also respecting Stephen King’s novels, seeing how he was not the biggest fan of the 1980 Kubrick film.
There is just something massively eerie about Doctor Sleep. It contains some really old-school filmmaking techniques that blew me away, while also changing the game for the horror genre.
3. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
This entry may very well be the most controversial on this list, but like I said earlier, these are all my opinions and if you hated this movie, then that is completely okay. I, however, thought that The Rise of Skywalker was a thrilling, satisfying and powerful conclusion to the Skywalker Saga that began in 1977 with Star Wars (or A New Hope).
The Rise of Skywalker takes some pretty surprising risks for a Star Wars movie but they were risks that all paid off for me in the end. It is also without a doubt one of the biggest scaled Star Wars movies we have ever had. What I mean by that is that the stakes here feel tremendously high. It truly felt like any one of the characters could have died at any moment.
As an action movie it succeeds, as an epic science fiction adventure movie it succeeds, but most importantly, as a Star Wars movie it succeeds. This franchise is important to me and with The Rise of Skywalker, it felt like the series ended with a bang.
2. Avengers: Endgame
Let’s just get this out of the way – Avengers: Endgame was my most anticipated film of all time. Ever since the age of about eight years old, Marvel was a part of my life. I grew up watching all of the Marvel movies, playing with the toys, reading the comic books, you name it.
Seeing this decade spanning journey pan out has been a pure delight. We have been through the lows of Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World, but we have also been through the highs of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Avengers: Infinity War.
Making a sequel to Infinity War was never going to be an easy task. A movie that quite literally ended with half of the universe dying, including some of our beloved heroes, is taking a big risk. Some filmmakers would have no idea how to follow up an ending like that. But it was clear that Anthony and Joe Russo had a very clear idea on how to follow-up their 2018 film Infinity War, and they succeeded tremendously.
It has large scale action that pays off, character moments that feel incredibly earned and some of the most emotional moments that this year in filmmaking had to offer. All of the acting was terrific, the visual effects were game-changing and it beautifully sets up what may come in the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
When I said earlier that Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining was my second favorite movie of all time, it was because that my all-time favorite is Ari Aster’s 2018 directorial debut Hereditary.
That was a movie that I went into thinking it was going to be a really good horror movie, but I did not really have any other expectations to be honest with you. After watching it, I was floored by how impressed I was by everything about it. It was the first time I felt sick to my stomach after watching a film, but in a good way. It was such a terrifying film because it was so grounded and so real, and even when things got supernatural and crazy, it still had a feeling of realism.
Midsommar, Aster’s sophomore film, is almost equally as impressive. He continues to make films that are so deep thematically, rich in its horror elements, thrilling, emotional, and exciting in its character moments and so much more.
Earlier on this list with Little Women, I briefly touched upon Florence Pugh. Midsommar was the first time I ever heard of Pugh and it was the first picture of hers I had watched. After watching the film, I felt something truly special about her. She acted so well that it almost seemed surreal that I was watching an actor and not a character. She gave it her all in the movie and it paid off. Her fake cries throughout Midsommar chill me to the bone every single time. I truly hope she gets an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role, even though I know that it will not happen. If it was me that was in charge of the Oscars, Pugh would easily win the award this year. She delivers one of my all-time favorite performances here.
Pawel Pogorzelski’s cinematography is a thing of utter beauty. Every single frame of Midsommar is seeping with detail and secrets. There is no dull shot to be found throughout this picture.
Bobby Krlic’s score is also one of the scariest film scores ever put to the screen in an extremely long time. Rarely can musical scores get such a strong response from me, but this one made me feel disturbed, haunted, yet it strangely uplifted me whenever it needed to.
But beside all the technical elements, Midsommar is a movie with a thematically rich story that always has something to say, and every plot point is executed with tons of skill and will keep you guessing all the way up until the final shot, which is one of the creepiest endings I have seen in a film in years.
Whatever Aster decides to craft for his next project, I am more than confident that it will, at the very least, be deeply interesting. He has stated quite recently that he eventually wants to make a musical, which, upon hearing that for the first time, came across as a bit strange to me. But after thinking about it for a bit, I’m assured that whatever musical he decides to create will more than likely be a tremendously fun time.